Supermarkets misleading consumers with copycat own-labels

Consumers feel “annoyed” and “misled” by own label brands that imitate established brands, according to a report by Which?, the latest in the ongoing battle over copycat brands that comes as own-labels could face tighter controls from European regulators.

Which? copycat brands
Which? report finds shoppers feel misled and annoyed by copycat brands.

The report found most major brands have a “recognisable” own-label equivalent in most of the major supermarkets and a fifth of consumers surveyed had bought an imitation brand by mistake.
Of those, 38 per cent of consumers felt mislead and 30 per cent felt annoyed by retailers for selling the products.

All the major supermarkets as well as discounters Aldi and Lidl were found to offer own-label products that closely resembled branded goods. Boots and Superdrug were also named in the report as having own brands that imitate established brands.

In the Which? study almost half (43 per cent) of consumers surveyed wrongly identified Aldi’s cream crackers as the branded product, rather than the genuine Jacob’s brand, and more than a third of respondents mistakenly identified at least one of the own-label products as the branded version.

The Which? report states: “Own-label equivalent products can be a good thing … but some products walk a fine line between suggesting a similarity with an established brand and confusing consumers to the point where they end up buying the wrong item by accident.”

A high profile copycat case in 2009 involved Sainsbury’s and Diageo over the supermarket’s fruit cocktail drink Pitchers, which Diageo claimed was too similar to its own drinks brand Pimms. The two parties settled and Salisbury’s agreed to change its packaging.

Under UK laws it is difficult for established brands to bring action against copycats, relying on “passing off” rules which require the brand to prove the copycat is trying to0make consumers think it is the branded product. Brands can also turn to Trading Standards to enforce Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading regulations, but this also requires a brand to prove there has been deliberate intent to mislead consumers.

In March the European Commission announced its intention to tighten up EU-wide regulations under the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive (UCPD), including so called copy-cat brands.
In its report, in reference to copycat products, The EC stated: “The problem has affected countries where the remedies against unfair competition appear not to be satisfactory and competitors regard the UCPD as a possible tool for starting legal action … The Commission will support stronger enforcement action on this matter whenever the practices at issue mislead consumers.”